Divergent: I finally read this book, but did it live up to my expectations? Well… (My thoughts on book #1 in the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth)
Let me start off by saying that the Divergent book series is a book series that I’ve really wanted to read and was really excited about for quite a while. I went into reading Divergent full of excitement and anticipation. Unfortunately, I ended up being very disappointed by this book.
One of the biggest problems that this book suffers from is a serious lack of world building. As I was reading this book, I kept waiting and hoping for Roth to provide some backstory for what happened that prompted their society to develop the social structure that they have with the five different factions: Abnegation (The Selfless), Dauntless (The Brave), Erudite (The Intelligent), Amity (The Peaceful), and Candor (The Honest). Also, how was it decided what the core values of each faction would be? There are some vague comments throughout the book about a war that happened at some point in the past, but it’s never fully explored or explained.
As I said in my reviews for Abigail Barnette’s books First Time (Ian’s Story) and First Time (Penny’s Story), it really bothered me that Barnette didn’t really provide a truly good explanation for why Penny had been waiting to lose her virginity in “Ian’s Story”. The explanation for that part of Penny’s backstory that was given in “Penny’s Story” ended up being very stupid and rather vague, which led to it also being incredibly frustrating and disappointing. I mention that only because much like the lack of a good backstory and explanation for something that played a huge role in the story hurt both versions of First Time, the lack of world building, backstory and depth behind each of the five factions really hurts Divergent as a whole.
Unfortunately for Divergent, the writing suffers a lot more due to its lack of backstory and world building since the book’s biggest flaws have to do with the key aspects of the story rather than being things that would be easier to forgive when it comes to any weaknesses that a story may have. Personally, I think the existence of good world building and thoroughly establishing backstory is especially important in books involving elements of fantasy or societies that are very different from the society we live in today. If an author neglects to give their characters and the plot a good and well written backstory, then the book really faces an uphill battle when it comes to being able to impress and entertain people, in my opinion.
That brings me to the other major problem that this book has. I feel like Veronica Roth oversimplifies what it means to be human by only having five factions in the story and treating being classified as divergent as something that’s bad and something to be ashamed of if they can’t be easily put into one category. To me, being divergent basically means that a person has depth and acknowledges the fact that everybody has their own unique personality. The fact that Roth never really explains why being divergent is supposed to be a bad thing really causes the writing for the book as a whole to suffer. When it comes to the fact that this book really seems to emphasize the idea that people should embrace conformity and that being divergent is something that’s bad really reminded me a lot of the Borg collective from the Star Trek franchise. If you’re not very familiar with Star Trek, the Borg collective basically routinely commit genocide of numerous alien races across the galaxy and strip people of their individuality by assimilating them and turning them into Borg in their quest to achieve perfection.
I really dislike the entire attitude towards family that this book conveys with the whole, “Faction before blood” motto, and the fact that it sounds like most people are pretty much disowned by their families if they decide to leave the faction that they were born into and join a different faction when they turn sixteen. Sure, it’s established that there is a visitation day where initiates can see their families, but the way Tris talks about that in the narration, it sounds like a lot of parents choose not to visit their children if they transfer to a different faction. I can kind of see why some parents might view their children choosing to join a different faction as being disloyal to their family, but I still think it’s wrong for parents to basically disown their children simply because they choose to live by a different moral code, even if that moral code could be viewed as good and honorable. It’s also one of the ways that I think the characters in this book are discouraging people from expressing their individuality and encouraging them to embrace conformity. The way Roth emphasized the whole “Faction before blood” also really came across as a very cult-like way of thinking to me, which is one of the main reasons that really bothered me.
A quick side note that I’d like to make is that I really liked the revelation that Tris’ mom, Natalie, had been born into a family that was a part of the Dauntless faction and that she had transferred to Abnegation. That reveal kind of reminded me of how in Stephenie Meyer’s book The Host, The Seeker ended up revealing to the protagonist, Wanderer, AKA, Wanda, that she hasn’t been able to completely suppress the mind of her host, much like Wanderer/Wanda experiences throughout the book with her own host, Melanie. Sadly, the fact that Tris’ mom was originally a member of the Dauntless faction isn’t explored in this book. However, from what I’ve read about the series on Wikipedia, it sounds like the fact that Tris’ mom originally being a member of the Dauntless faction is expanded upon in the other books in the series.
Personally, I think that Tris’ mom originally being from the Dauntless faction is one of the many things that Roth should have fleshed out a lot more in this book instead of apparently waiting until she wrote the other books in the series to develop that plot point. The death of Tris’ mom and a lot of her mom’s actions throughout the book didn’t make that much of an impression on me due to the lack of character development for Natalie in this book. I really think that her mom’s death would have had more of an impact on me if Roth had done more to develop Natalie’s backstory as originally being from the Dauntless faction and her decision to transfer to Abnegation before Natalie was killed.
For the record, when I first started reading this book, I was really enjoying it. However, reading this book eventually started to feel rather tedious since the majority of the book revolves around Tris going through the Dauntless initiation process, which basically involves them going through dangerous simulations and other potentially dangerous situations. Perhaps that sounds like it would be exciting to read about if you haven’t read this book yet, but I felt like it just got way too repetitive after a while. Reading the parts where Tris was going through her training got me thinking a lot about the Harry Potter books and how the parts in those books that focused on the things that Harry and all of the other characters learned about in their classes at Hogwarts were a lot more interesting and engaging than almost everything that Tris did for Dauntless’ initiation process.
The reason I say that is that there always seemed to be some kind of looming threat or subplot going on at the same time, which really helped add some tension to the story in each of the Harry Potter books. Plus, the characters were able to use a lot of the things that they learned in their classes to help them deal with the various threats that they faced throughout the series. Getting back to the subject of Divergent, I really wish that Roth had beefed up Jeanine Matthews’ presence in the story, because the parts of the story that involved Jeanine were all very interesting, and they did add at least some compelling tension to the story. Plus, I feel like Roth waited too long before she made it clear just how important Jeanine was to the story.
In my opinion, the overall pacing of the book is rather uneven. It started out strong and the story is very exciting and engaging at first, then it begins to feel rather tedious, repetitive and dull once Tris has been going through Dauntless initiation for a while. Unfortunately, the story continues to feel rather tedious and repetitive for a large chunk of the book, and it doesn’t really pick up and get truly exciting again until towards the end of the book when Jeanine’s whole agenda is revealed and she starts to carry out her plan.
One thing that I think could have made this book a lot better and a lot more interesting is if it had been written from several different characters’ points of view, with each character belonging to one of the five different factions. I think it’s really disappointing that there are five different factions, and yet the only faction that’s thoroughly explored and developed throughout the book is Dauntless. Personally, I think it’s really disappointing that Roth has created a relatively elaborate society in this series with the whole five factions system, but we ultimately don’t get to see what the initiation process is like for the other factions in this book. Since I haven’t read the other books in the series at this point in time, I obviously don’t know if she develops the other factions more in the other books in the series, though. However, given the fact that I found Divergent to be rather disappointing, I’m honestly not feeling extremely motivated to read the rest of the series at the moment.
Something that really baffled me regarding the whole five-faction system was the attitude towards the factionless. Throughout the entire book, the factionless are basically viewed as being a problem for their society, and yet there were parts in the book where it seemed like the simplest thing could lead to a person becoming factionless. For example, after the choosing ceremony, Tris and the other Dauntless initiates are all jumping onto a moving train, and one of the initiates fails to make the jump onto the train, which apparently means that they’re factionless. Throughout the whole training process, it’s made clear that if initiates don’t rank high enough, then they become factionless. I honestly don’t completely know what to think about that, whether I should view that as being rather ridiculous and absurd thinking on the characters’ part, or if I should just view that as being bad and moronic writing on Veronica Roth’s part.
For a part of the story, Tris was facing the possibility of being cut from the Dauntless’ initiation process since she wasn’t ranking very highly compared to the rest of the Duantless’ initiates. While everything with Tris going through the Dauntless’ initiation process definitely began to feel incredibly repetitive after a while, Tris facing the possibility of being cut from the Dauntless initiation process definitely created some interesting tension story wise. However, the fact that some Dauntless initiates are cut and therefore become factionless if they don’t do well enough during the whole initiation process also really frustrated me to a certain extent, too. Throughout the whole book, it’s pretty clear that being factionless is viewed as something bad and something that’s a problem for their society. However, based on what little we, the reader, are shown of their government, not only does it sound like they aren’t doing much to help the factionless; they’re only perpetuating the problems that the factionless apparently cause by having the stupidest and simplest things lead to more people becoming factionless, if you ask me. That just doesn’t really make any sense to me, and it comes across as bad writing on Roth’s part.
That being said, the entire attitude towards the factionless that the rest of society seems to have is one of the reasons why I think the point of view for the book should have been split between Tris, Caleb since he chose to join the Erudite faction, an Amity initiate, and a Candor initiate. Since Tris and Caleb originally came from an Abnegation family, I’m not sure if I think Roth should have had another relatively significant character from the Abnegation faction in the story, though. If Roth really wanted to make things interesting, perhaps she could have had another character that was factionless, and maybe that could have involved a subplot where that character organizes an uprising of some kind with other people who are factionless.
There would definitely be some pros and cons to doing that if Roth had gone that route. On the one hand, I think that writing the book from alternating points of view could have potentially really given this book some much needed depth and compelling action. However, on the downside, doing that could have made this book very long. Plus, I’m not entirely sure that writing the book from alternating points of view would have automatically given the writing for this book more depth.
The reason I say this is because Tris is unfortunately somewhat lacking in depth, especially when it comes to the fact that she’s Divergent. The way Tris being Divergent is written, the other characters make it sound like being Divergent is something that’s bad and should be feared, and yet it’s not like she’s able to do anything truly dangerous, at least the way the concept of being Divergent is portrayed in this book. In the story, all it really seems to mean is that when Tris is in a simulation, she apparently has the ability to manipulate the simulation. Outside of the story, being Divergent seems to mean that she can’t be easily defined by any one trait and that she actually has a personality. However, Roth ultimately doesn’t really do anything with Tris’ “abilities” outside of the simulations when she’s dealing with reality, which kind of makes Tris being Divergent all feel rather pointless to me. The fact that Tris being Divergent doesn’t actually make her seem truly special really causes the book as a whole to suffer since it’s supposed to be such a huge part of the story.
As I was reading Divergent, I had a really hard time understanding why anybody in their right mind would choose to join the Dauntless faction. Even after finishing this book, I’m still not sure why people would want to join Dauntless. The way the Dauntless faction was portrayed in the book, they all seem like a bunch of thrill seeking adrenaline junkies, and apparently that’s supposed to mean that the Dauntless are brave. As far as I’m concerned, a person intentionally putting themselves in dangerous situations doesn’t automatically mean that they’re a brave person. To me, the Dauntless just seem reckless and like they’re just begging to wind up dead, and I’m not sure how their society can actually benefit from people acting like that all the time. However, it sounds like members of the Dauntless faction get jobs working as security guards. Personally, I believe that people don’t need to be willing to constantly put themselves in danger in order to be viewed as being brave. Frankly, the Dauntless come across as having some serious self-destructive tendencies, and it just completely and utterly baffles me that Roth seems to equate being self-destructive with demonstrating bravery in this book. That’s just a really bad message to convey to people, in my opinion, especially to teenagers given the fact that the Divergent series is a YA book series.
When it comes to Tris’ decision to join the Dauntless faction, I can kind of understand and even relate to the fact that Tris felt like she doesn’t belong in the Abnegation faction despite the fact that she was born into it. I know from personal experience what it feels like to be a part of a group, and still feel like you don’t truly belong or fit in with them. Not feeling like you fit in with a group of people, regardless of whether they’re friends for family, is definitely a very lonely and terrible feeling. For that reason, I can kind of understand why Tris chose to not remain a part of the Abnegation faction. However, I’m still not entirely sure I understand what motivated Tris to transfer to the Dauntless faction out of all of the other factions. Roth kind of gives the reader some insight into Tris’ thought process when she’s trying to decide what faction she’s going to choose at the choosing ceremony, but out of all the parts of the story that felt way too rushed for me; it was definitely the beginning of the book when Tris is trying to decide which faction she’ll choose when it comes time for the choosing ceremony, while also dealing with the fact that her test results for the aptitude test were inconclusive.
That being said, I do really like the character Tris for the most part. In general, I think she’s a very likable character, even though Tris, as a character, felt somewhat lacking in depth and complexity. As I said in my review for 99 Days by Katie Cotugno, it’s usually very hit or miss when it comes to whether or not I like the protagonist of a YA novel. While Tris definitely bugged me when it came to how she reacted to hearing Al crying himself to sleep at night, I still ultimately really liked Tris in the end. I’m sorry, it just really pisses me off when people act like boys aren’t allowed to cry or display any kind of vulnerability around other people. That being said, I do love that she’s not all wishy-washy and somewhat of a spineless doormat like Bella Swan from the Twilight series had a tendency to be. Don’t get me wrong, I do like the Twilight series, even with all of its flaws and the ridiculous gender swap novel, but there’s no denying that Bella definitely annoyed the hell out of me at times, especially when it came to New Moon, but I digress.
While this book definitely has a lot of problems, especially when it comes to having less depth than the shallow end of a kiddie pool in some ways, I honestly thought that some of the supporting characters displayed more depth and complexity than Tris did at times, namely Al and Tobias “Four” Eaton. That being said, I thought that it was really sad that Al ended up killing himself. Personally, I think that Al was a character that had a lot of potential. While I’m currently on the fence about reading the other books in the series, I’m still very interested in reading the short story collection that focuses on Four, because Four is definitely my favorite character in the book.
I feel like I should mention that I watched the movie adaptation of Divergent for the first time while I was in the process of reading the book. When it comes to how I feel about the book versus the movie, I’d say that I actually liked the movie a little more than I liked the book. I especially liked Kate Winslet’s portrayal of Jeanine Matthews. Ultimately, it’s hard for me to explain why exactly I liked the movie more than I liked the book, but the story itself just worked better as a movie than it did as a book for me personally.
All things considered, I really did go into reading Divergent with a lot of excitement and anticipation, and when I started reading this book, I was genuinely enjoying it. However, the farther I got into it, the more dissatisfied I became with it. Don’t me wrong; Divergent isn’t an outright bad book. If anything, the book is simply very underwhelming and lacking in depth in a lot of ways, especially when it comes to the world building that’s showcased in the book. If Roth had added some more depth to the characters and hadn’t oversimplified the core beliefs of each faction down to just one personality trait, this book probably could have been a lot better. Before I started reading Divergent, I was very interested in reading the entire Divergent series (Including Four: A Divergent Collection), but now after having read Divergent, I have to say that the jury is currently still out on whether or not I will read the rest of the series.
That being said, my final score for Divergent is 5 out of 10.
Posted on January 10, 2016, in Book Reviews, Uncategorized and tagged 99 Days, Abigail Barnette, book review, By The Numbers, Divergent, Divergent Trilogy, First Time, Jenny Trout, Katie Cotugno, Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined, Stephenie Meyer, The Host, Twilight, Twilight saga, Veronica Roth. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.